Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Mike Kostka got together with a few of his fellow former Norfolk Admirals teammates, now members of the Tampa Bay Lightning, on Friday.
It was a chance to remember the Admirals’ tremendous 2011-12 season, the one in which they rattled off 28 consecutive victories -- still a professional hockey record -- and capped it with a Calder Cup triumph over the Toronto Marlies. And, it was just a chance to get together for the Norfolk alums who have remained close friends.
“That team’s as close a team as I’ve ever been on, and Kostka was a big part of it,” Tampa center Tyler Johnson on Saturday afternoon. “We’ve kept in touch a lot. We’re family, and we’re always going to be.”
But family ties will take a backseat later tonight when Kostka, makes his debut in his new jersey when the Blackhawks host the Lightning at the United Center. For Kostka, getting into his first Blackhawks game is a treat, made that much sweeter in facing good friends and former teammates.
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“I always like playing against old teammates. It’s a good time,” Kostka said after morning skate. “I don’t think I’ll ever be a part of something that incredible again, in terms of the record. We didn’t even know how it happened. You have different levels for goals and achievements, and I’m proud to make it (to the NHL). But you never forget what got you there, an experience like that, which really did help propel me forward.”
The Admirals went 55-18-3 that season en route to the title, and a good deal of those players have made it to the next level.
“We look back, nine guys are in the NHL from that team. That shows, if you win, teams are going to be looking for you,” said Lightning left wing Pierre-Cedric Labrie, who enjoyed the reunion with Kostka on Friday. “He’s an awesome dude, a really laid-back, funny guy. I have nothing bad to say about him.”
Kostka didn’t make the NHL with the Lightning. He signed a contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs in July of 2012 and played 35 games for the Leafs last season. But there’ll always be Norfolk, the success the team had, the friendships built and the drive to make the NHL that season instilled in him.
“Maybe it didn’t work on the NHL level so there’s always a bit of a proving ground. That being said, I have nothing but good things to say about my time in that organization,” Kostka said. “But there’s always that part that drives you, and playing against guys you won a championship with, I’m excited.”